Education for Sustainability Roadmap

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Education for Sustainability Roadmap


Education Leadership Training for School Directors and Instructional Coaches


Ecuador’s Ministry of Education, Fundación Scalesia (Galapagos), K.C. Busch (North Carolina State University) and Greses Joehnk (Stanford University)




Notebook with plants and diagrams


In November 2017, Ecuador’s Ministry of Education asked Galapagos Conservancy and the Fundación Scalesia to develop a “roadmap” for connecting sustainability principles with learning standards of Ecuador’s national curriculum and concrete sustainability issues and challenges in Galapagos. This “roadmap” will be used to focus future Teacher Institutes associated with the Education for Sustainability in Galapagos Program and will be shared with teachers to guide them in the development of lesson plans and units that address both sustainability issues and Ecuadorian learning standards.

The Sustainability Framework

Sustainability refers to development efforts that “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987, p. 42). Sustainability sits at the intersection of three systems: 1) environment, 2) economy, and 3) society. The Ministry of Education of Ecuador has identified 3 “Sustainability Axes” that correspond to the three spheres of sustainable development: 1) Environmental Protection – Conservation and Biodiversity Management, 2) Economic Development – Use of Natural Resources, and 3) Societal Improvement – Human Development.

For a process or program to be considered “sustainable,” it must encompass all three systems. The overlap of these systems is such that some suggest that they are nested systems, in which the economy is a subset of society, which is also a subset of the environment (see Figure 1). The nested model of sustainability acknowledges that a healthy economy and a just society/ are dependent on environmental health.

Figure 1. Nested Model of Sustainability (Nolet, 2016, p. 44)

Nested model

The United Nations General Assembly has further articulated seventeen Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030 (UN, 2015). These goals include ending poverty and hunger, reducing inequality and increasing inclusivity, ensuring healthy livelihoods, improving education, and conserving environmental resources. These lofty goals are ambitious, and education has been identified as crucial for the achievement of sustainable development goals.

Education for Sustainability

The overarching, broad goal of Education for Sustainability (EfS) is to empower learners to make informed decisions and take responsible actions to maintain environmental integrity, ensure economic viability, and support a just society for present and future generations (UNESCO, 2017).

There are three types of EfS (Nolet, 2016). First, there is provision of basic education to all humans. By increasing the overall quality of basic education, children are provided with the knowledge and skills to better their lives. Second, there is education about sustainability, which provides knowledge about sustainability-related issues, such as climate change or water pollution. Third, there is education for sustainability, which includes knowledge about sustainability topics but also includes values and skills to enact sustainable ways to living. This proposed Roadmap intends to provide a path to attain this last level of sustainability education.

Dimensions of Education for Sustainability

A Galapagos teacher studying plant lifeEducation for Sustainability is multi-dimensional. The UNESCO (2017) report, Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives, articulates dimensions of educational experiences that support sustainability goals include content, competencies, character, and community. Each of these dimensions are defined as follows:

  1. Concepts – learning to know (cognitive learning objectives). Learning content, specific to issues of sustainability, should be integrated into and across the curricular subjects. Integrated learning accurately conveys the interdisciplinary nature of sustainable development.
  2. Competencies – learning to do (behavioral learning objectives). Classroom activities should develop cross-cutting competencies for sustainable development, such as systems thinking, futures thinking, critical thinking, and problem solving. These competencies span across disciplines and encapsulate the skills and ways of thinking needed to take positive action.
    1. Systems thinking involves the ability to recognize systems as large and complex, with many components. Students are able to identify the relationships between human and natural systems and analyze how they interact.
    2. Futures thinking (“anticipatory competency” in UNESCO documents) involves the ability to imagine and evaluate multiple, plausible futures. In addition, students will consider how past and current action will have foreseeable and unknown consequences for the future.
    3. Solutions thinking (“integrated problem solving” in UNESCO documents) involves the ability to apply different problem-solving frameworks to create viable and equitable solution options for complex sustainability problems. Solution actions can be considered at the individual or collective level.
    4. Critical thinking involves the ability to question societal norms, practices, and opinions in order to take and justify a position on issues of sustainability.
  3. Character – learning to be (socio-emotional learning objectives). Socio-emotional skills enable students to collaborate, negotiate, and communicate with others. These skills include values and attitudes that are conducive to sustainability action-taking as well as personal character development. Examples of these skills are: creativity, honesty, kindness, respect, care, equity, justice, teamwork, leadership, hope, and appreciation.
  4. Community – learning to live together (place-based learning objectives). Content and learning should connect across contexts, from school, to home, and to the community. Contextualizing content and learning within local settings provides personal relevance for learners.

Sustainability Principles for Students

In keeping with the nested systems view of sustainability, we suggest integrating the three spheres of sustainability and the dimensions of Education for Sustainability into interdisciplinary “Sustainability Principles.” Sustainability Principles are high-level concepts that students could be expected to develop as they progress through their formal educational experience (Austrian ES Alliance). These Principles also incorporate the four dimensions of Education for Sustainability described above. The proposed Sustainability Principles are:

Sustainability Principle 1 – All life forms, including human life, are sustained by the dynamic biosphere on which they depend for their well-being and survival. Related “big ideas”: Equilibrium, Change, Limits, Cycles.

Sustainability Principle 2 – Sustainable living relies on the interdependence of healthy social, economic, and ecological systems. Related “big ideas”: Systems, interdependence.

Sustainability Principle 3 – Diversity and social justice are necessary for achieving sustainability. Related “big ideas”: Fairness/Equity, Diversity.

Sustainability Principle 4 – Sustainability is achieved through informed individual and collective action that values local and global communities and future generations. Related “big Ideas”: Community, Place, Taking action, Long-term effects.

Part 2. The Curricular Roadmap

We will develop a Curricular Roadmap that will identify opportunities in the current Ecuadorian Educational Standards (destrezas) in each subject area (mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts) to develop the Sustainability Principles articulated above. In addition, the Curricular Roadmap will identify specific Connections to Galapagos for each of the Sustainability Principles.

To show the scope and sequence for the progression of the Sustainability Principles, documents will be created for each grade band (Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School and High School) as well as across grade bands. Below is an example of what the Roadmap will look like:

Curriculum roadmap

“Connections to Galapagos” refer to problems, challenges, issues and areas of activity in Galapagos that can and should be examined in an interdisciplinary fashion. Examples could include: human-wildlife interactions, water resources in Galapagos, plastic wastes, tourism, etc.

The Roadmap will be accompanied by an annotated bibliography of resources (articles, research findings, data sets, policy documents, websites, local and international experts) that teachers can access to develop lessons and units that connect sustainability principles, the national curriculum and sustainability issues in Galapagos./

Current Needs

GC seeks additional funding for:

  • Compilation of supporting resources to be used by teachers to develop lessons and units.
  • An instructional coach to assist groups of teachers in the development of effective units and lessons, based on the roadmap, following the Lesson Study model — a collaborative process through which groups of teachers develop and validate lesson plans.


Australian Education for Sustainability Alliance. Accessed on 11-10-17. Available here.

Nolet, V. (2015). Educating for sustainability: Principles and practices for teachers. Routledge.

United Nations, General Assembly (UN). (2015). Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2017). Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives.

World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). (1987). Our Common Future.

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